As a mode of expository writing, the narrative approach, more than any other, offers writers a chance to think and write about themselves. We all have experiences lodged in our memories, which are worthy of sharing with readers. Yet sometimes they are so fused with other memories that a lot of the time spent in writing narrative is in the prewriting stage.
When you write a narrative essay, you are telling a story. Narrative essays are told from a defined point of view, often the author's, so there is feeling as well as specific and often sensory details provided to get the reader involved in the elements and sequence of the story. The verbs are vivid and precise. The narrative essay makes a point and that point is often defined in the opening sentence, but can also be found as the last sentence in the opening paragraph.
Since a narrative relies on personal experiences, it often is in the form of a story. When the writer uses this technique, he or she must be sure to include all the conventions of storytelling: plot, character, setting, climax, and ending. It is usually filled with details that are carefully selected to explain, support, or embellish the story. All of the details relate to the main point the writer is attempting to make.
To summarize, the narrative essay
- is told from a particular point of view
- makes and supports a point
- is filled with precise detail
- uses vivid verbs and modifiers
- uses conflict and sequence as does any story
- may use dialogue
The purpose of a narrative report is to describe something. Many students write narrative reports thinking that these are college essays or papers. While the information in these reports is basic to other forms of writing, narrative reports lack the "higher order thinking" that essays require. Thus narrative reports do not, as a rule, yield high grades for many college courses. A basic example of a narrative report is a "book report" that outlines a book; it includes the characters, their actions, possibly the plot, and, perhaps, some scenes. That is, it is a description of "what happens in the book." But this leaves out an awful lot.
What is left out is what the book or article is about -- the underlying concepts, assumptions, arguments, or point of view that the book or article expresses. A narrative report leaves aside a discussion that puts the events of the text into the context of what the text is about. Is the text about love? Life in the fast lane? Society? Wealth and power? Poverty? In other words, narrative reports often overlook the authors purpose or point of view expressed through the book or article.
Once an incident is chosen, the writer should keep three principles in mind.
- Remember to involve readers in the story. It is much more interesting to actually recreate an incident for readers than to simply tell about it.
- Find a generalization, which the story supports. This is the only way the writer's personal experience will take on meaning for readers. This generalization does not have to encompass humanity as a whole; it can concern the writer, men, women, or children of various ages and backgrounds.
- Remember that although the main component of a narrative is the story, details must be carefully selected to support, explain, and enhance the story.
Conventions of Narrative Essays
In writing your narrative essay, keep the following conventions in mind.
- Narratives are generally written in the first person, that is, using I. However, third person (he, she, or it) can also be used.
- Narratives rely on concrete, sensory details to convey their point. These details should create a unified, forceful effect, a dominant impression. More information on the use of specific details is available on another page.
- Narratives, as stories, should include these story conventions: a plot, including setting and characters; a climax; and an ending.
Here are some popular essay topic examples for your narrative essay type:
- First Day at College
- The Moment of Success
- A Memorable Journey
The essay topic you choose should be interesting and important to you, because the best essays are written on the topics that really matter to the writer.
To write a narrative essay, you’ll need to tell a story (usually about something that happened to you) in such a way that he audience learns a lesson or gains insight.
To write a descriptive essay, you’ll need to describe a person, object, or event so vividly that the reader feels like he/she could reach out and touch it.
Tips for writing effective narrative and descriptive essays:
- Tell a story about a moment or event that means a lot to you--it will make it easier for you to tell the story in an interesting way!
- Get right to the action! Avoid long introductions and lengthy descriptions--especially at the beginning of your narrative.
- Make sure your story has a point! Describe what you learned from this experience.
- Use all five of your senses to describe the setting, characters, and the plot of your story. Don't be afraid to tell the story in your own voice. Nobody wants to read a story that sounds like a textbook!
How to Write Vivid Descriptions
Having trouble describing a person, object, or event for your narrative or descriptive essay? Try filling out this chart:
What do you smell?
What do you taste?
What do you see?
What do you hear?
What might you touch or feel?
Remember: Avoid simply telling us what something looks like--tell us how it tastes, smells, sounds, or feels!
- Virginia rain smells different from a California drizzle.
- A mountain breeze feels different from a sea breeze.
- We hear different things in one spot, depending on the time of day.
- You can “taste” things you’ve never eaten: how would sunscreen taste?
Using Concrete Details for Narratives
Effective narrative essays allow readers to visualize everything that's happening, in their minds. One way to make sure that this occurs is to use concrete, rather than abstract, details.
…makes the story or image seem clearer and more real to us.
...makes the story or image difficult to visualize.
…gives us information that we can easily grasp and perhaps empathize with.
…leaves your reader feeling empty, disconnected, and possibly confused.
The word “abstract” might remind you of modern art. An abstract painting, for example, does not normally contain recognizable objects. In other words, we can't look at the painting and immediately say "that's a house" or "that's a bowl of fruit." To the untrained eye, abstract art looks a bit like a child's finger-painting--just brightly colored splotches on a canvas.
Avoid abstract language—it won’t help the reader understand what you're trying to say!
Abstract: It was a nice day.
Concrete: The sun was shining and a slight breeze blew across my face.
Abstract: I liked writing poems, not essays.
Concrete: I liked writing short, rhythmic poems and hated rambling on about my thoughts in those four-page essays.
Abstract: Mr. Smith was a great teacher.
Concrete: Mr. Smith really knew how to help us turn our thoughts into good stories and essays.